Friday, September 30, 2005

Denis Johnson Reading

If you're an Austinite, and a fan of Denis Johnson's work, he'll be reading at the Katherine Anne Porter House in Kyle at 7:30 tonight.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Translation Woes

I've been spending the week translating a short story and a couple of poems, all by Libyan authors, for the Words Without Borders anthology. It's been spanking me. This has been quite possibly the most difficult batch of translations I've ever done; at some point I was looking up 3 out of every 5 words. Which is very unusual for me. It's interesting, because most of my translation work has been for Palestinian, Egyptian, and Lebanese authors. I won't make any generalizations, but I was wondering to myself today if Libyan authors'-- or possibly North African writers' - usage of Arabic is more crafty and intricate than others' in the region. Hmmm. Maybe my Arabic's just getting rusty...

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

"You read with all your senses"

I found out from this Chronicle article that T.E. Lawrence's tattered copy of Ulysses is at the HRC here in Austin:
[The copy]... stands out for its full range of appeals to the senses. The volume has been rebound in sumptuous wine-red leather ornamented with gilt, and it gives every indication of frequent use, including a well-rubbed binding. Inside, on more than 150 pages, are pencil annotations about the Dublin landmarks in Joyce's masterpiece, as well as more than a few black smudges and even a couple of biscuit crumbs.

In addition, Lawrence's copy of Ulysses is remarkable for its smell. The book has been shown to many visitors and students over the years. When it is carefully removed from the shelf and ceremoniously divested of its acid-free box, which helps preserve the volume, even from several inches away you can smell a sweet, somewhat smoky aroma that suffuses every bit of paper and leather. Many people assume it must be the residue of pipe tobacco, perhaps the fruit-scented variety. The aroma is a spur to the imagination, summoning up romantic visions of Lawrence by his fireside, puffing reflectively on a meerschaum, immersed in the drama of Leopold Bloom.
In my version of that romantic vision, Lawrence is toking on a sheesha.

Of Pores and Souls

The Daily Star reviewsAboulela's Minaret:
Her account of a post-Ramadan party where all the women in Najwa's mosque unveil themselves for the Eid reads like a lame, sanitized knockoff of "Sex in the City." The way Aboulela writes about notions of mercy doesn't square with Najwa's immature and stubbornly superficial worldview. To insure the book's target reader - clearly dim-witted and definitely Western - understands said notions of mercy, Najwa explains: It's like "exfoliation, clarifying, deep-pore cleanse - words I knew from the beauty pages of magazines and the counters of Selfridges. Now they were for my soul not my skin." Is she joking?
Hmmm... I hope so.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Dear relatives who have contacted me, or are thinking of contacing me, to make sure I haven't perished because of Rita

I have not. Please
stop calling at what is
on my end of the world
a reasonable hour,
on yours,
not. I am alive and well.
Worry not!

The real tragedy, dear relatives,
is that this happened
this weekend here.
Worse than getting flooded out
is not getting to chill
at my regular coffee shop
because there were too many
annoying non-Austinites
drinking iced lattes.
They suck.

I don't know what it is about them
that I despise:
the girls' golden lame' handbags?
The guys' emo haircuts?
Or maybe it's that they'll get to leave Austin
when it's over,
and I won't?

But enough about me.
How are you?
Mama, you live so close
to car bombings and fires
and such,
I worry about you.

You are in the same city
Arafat caught his mystery
illness in. How is Ramallah?
Ya allah!
How I miss it,
and miss you!

I heard the windows in the old
house in Jenin have been blown out
and re-installed more times
than I've visited it.
I worry about you.

Cousin in Alexandria,
surrounded by boredom and sounds:
when you leave the house,
or even while indoors,
when you begrudgingly go about your chores,
you can hear the athaan in the distance,
the neighbor's daughter's yawn,
the milkman on his bicycle
balancing his tins on his shoulders.
I hope your dream comes true,
and you find a job soon.

Here it is quiet
and lonely
what a neat trick you've all played
by calling,
it's you I miss,
you for whom I worry.
I'd almost given up hope
that we had anything left in common
but our worry unites us
at odd hours, on the phone.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

I Likes Reggae

matisyahuAnd I likes Matisyahu: a hasidic cutie who toasts. Very cool. In an article about a Palestinian-Israeli hip hop concert last year, Matisyahu said:
"Music is neutral. ... It can be used for religious purposes or for negativity. It can bring people together. It can bring Jews and Arabs together."

Click on the first search result here to download "King Without A Crown."

Monday, September 19, 2005

Grad School, Here I Come (Please?)

So, I've been getting ready to apply to grad schools. This is something I tend to do every fall. However, I think I'm actually going to apply this year.

It's been 5 years since I dropped out of my second grad school excursion. By the time I was 22, I'd been in school for 18 years and was burnt the fuck out. I needed the past 5 years to chill and to "work."

Also, my kid's 9 now, and 9 is so much more handle-able than 4. He's in a great school,dresses himself, and has a mohawk now, too, which means I don't have to spend time on his grooming.

So, i'm prepping for the evil GRE - the normal one and the subject test. The subject test may as well be called the honky christian test. God DAMN that test is bullshit.

I'm working on my personal statement right now, too, and I can't help but write unprofessional drafts that are very similar to this post. I know I have to tone it down, but whenever I do, I fall asleep.

Back to learning the difference between an epic invocation and an epithalamium. Because that shit's really important to know when you call your apartment manager and ask for another month's extension.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Special Issue of CRB

This month's issue of the Cairo Review of Books commemorates 35 years since the death of Gamal Abdel-Nasser in September 1970.

A Web Of One's Own

Jeanette Winterson on Author Websites:
Hanif Kureishi has a miserable site, which looks as if it’s been generated at an Early Learning Centre based in Wigan, while Ruth Rendell has a publisher’s site harder to navigate than Bugdom Level Eight.

Miss Winterson's site is sho nuff sexy, though.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Best American Nonrequired Reading 2005 Notable

BANR 2005I wouldn't have known if miss Laila hadn't emailed me the news:
I flipped through the BNAR 2005 last night, and in the back of the book, where Eggers put the stories that he had considered 'notable' for 2004, I saw a certain Randa Jarrar with "You Are a 14-Year Old..."!!
That's pretty fucking fabulous. Every once in a while, I feel dejected about the writing... then something cool like this happens. Yay.

The anthology comes out in October.

Best face forward (?)

Robert Birnbaum talks to George Saunders over at TMN.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Wong Kar-Wai's 2046

is quite good. My favorite pair of scenes: An android on a train to a place where all memories are stored stares out the window and waits for love. The screen goes black, the words 10 MINUTES LATER in white letters. She is still staring, waiting. 10 HOURS LATER. Still staring. 100 HOURS LATER. Still waiting.

The other scene comes a while later. The protagonist, ladies man Chow, has been asked to re-write the sad ending to his novel, to make it happier. The woman who wants him to re-write it is a lost love, and incidentally, is the same woman who plays the android on the train.

So, he holds a fountain pen. We get a close-up of the pen hovering over blank paper, poised. The screen goes black, the words 10 MINUTES LATER in white letters. We get a shot of the pen, still hovering. 10 HOURS LATER. The pen is still hovering. 100 HOURS LATER. The pen is still poised.

I love this pair of scenes: what writer hasn't been paralized in the face of wanting to create happiness, to write himself a happy ending? And how many writers write to create a place where all memories can be stored? And the scenes imply, to me, that a writer is an android on a train, waiting, futilely, for love.

In the Mood for... a Clorox Bathwand?

The new clorox bathwand commercial uses Yumeji's theme from In the Mood for Love! Here's a snippet of the song. It's a beautiful piece which goes perfectly with the film's aching longing. I don't know what ad exec first thought, "God this song will make housewives want this bathwand," but I hope he one day suffers from explosive diarrhea while in the bath.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

New Zoetrope Includes Naguib Mahfouz Story

"Room No. 12," a short story by Naguib Mahfouz, is published in the Fall 2005 issue of Zoetrope (which is not online yet.) Check it out at your local bookstore. It's really good, one of many that will be included in Supernatural Stories, which AUC press is bringing out in 2006.

In "Room No. 12," a sharp-dressed woman takes a room at a Cairo hotel, and begins to accept dozens of visitors. I first heard of the story in Cairo last summer from Ahmad Aidy's cousin Magdy, who told me it was a parable about the Nasser administration. But after reading it, I couldn't help but think of it as a commentary on America and on capitalism and globalism, in general.

You must check it for yourself.

Southern Review

Bret Lott, editor and director of TSR, writes:
Strangely and beautifully and sadly enough, the latest issue of The Southern Review -- mailed to subscribers just week before last, right as the hurricane was making way for the Gulf Coast -- has turned out to be a very special issue for the artwork on the cover and that featured inside. The artist, Billy Solitario, lives near GULFPORT (and I trust you have seen the pictures of the devastation there); as of this writing, we have not been able to contact him. The paintings themselves are of the Gulf Coast --one of them is even titled "Spiral Cloud over Levee," another one titled "Storm Over the Mississippi"; still others in the portfolio are of barrier islands on the Gulf Coast -- places that don't even exist anymore. The artwork was selected about a year ago, and the synchronicity of this is a little too much to think about -- the issue, which went out just two weeks ago, celebrates a coastland that is, suddenly, gone. Also, and again the
synchronicity of this is too much to behold, the lead poems in this issue are by Peter Cooley, poet at now-closed Tulane University; we have heard that he is safe in Houston at the time of this writing.
TSR is trying to raise funds for hurricane student relief. If you can help, please send a check for $8 or more to:

Make the check out to LSU Foundation, and write Hurricane Student Relief Fund on the memo line.

And in return, You'll get a free copy of said issue of TSR.

Kunkel Cock Worship

Anyone else notice that the NYT spent about 13 of its pages today, between the magazine and the book review, on Benjamin Kunkel?

Thursday, September 08, 2005


Mubarak wins. From the NYT:
Without monitors in place in most of the nearly 10,000 polling stations, it was Mr. Mubarak's National Democratic Party that effectively ran the voting process. Whether they were told to or not, many people acted as if Election Day was an exercise in leader worship.

"I vote for President Mubarak because I could not find any candidate more handsome than Hosni Mubarak," said Mohany Ziad, 48, as he cast his ballot in the Cairo neighborhood of Torah, and then pressed his neighbors to vote the same way.

At many polling stations, Mubarak supporters literally stood over voters as they cast their ballots. Murad Mahmoud Abdullah videotaped people in his polling station, and the message of intimidation was clear. Khalid Ahmed Muhammad stood beside voters chanting, "Hosni! Hosni!" in a threatening manner.

And in at least one polling station, the only person who appeared to be in charge was a governing party representative who wore a Mubarak button as he told people where to go to vote.
And according to the BBC, Ayman Nour is challenging the results and demanding a re-run.

Sharon and my Mother-in-Law

Just finished Suad Amiry's book, which is subtitled "Ramallah Diaries." It's hilarious. The writing's nothing to faint over, but the sense of survival and the humor is breathtaking.

My favorite scene is when the entire population of Ramallah comes out of their houses during curfew and bangs on pots, lampposts, watertanks, garbage bins, and anything else they can find, in a state of civil disobedience:
It looked like a scene from a mental hospital. Never mind, I thought to myself, even if it did not send a message to Sharon and his occupying army, it was great group therapy.
You can pre-order it, or check it out when it comes out next month.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Tiny Cities Made of Ashes

I was listening to my iTunes today and this song came on, and of course it gave me a creepy feeling.

Yesterday I cleaned out the closet under the stairs and came up with a box of toys to donate to the poor kiddos at the convention center. On the way to pick up my son, I saw a sign by the side of the road that said;
which is very cool. I guess it's easier though to donate your old stuff as opposed to your time.

My father called me while I was cleaning out the closet and he breathlessly told me about these two ideas he has for books/movies. He doesn't do this as often as he used to, tell me ideas for plots, but these two were particluarly good (they both feature cloning and or time travel). While he was telling me the ideas I found a picture of him, in a plastic box at the back of the closet. It was taken just over 7 years ago, so he was still in his forties, around 47 or 48, and in the picture, he is standing next to a little tree he'd planted when we'd first moved into that house in CT. The tree in the picture is shorter than he is.

I suddenly got an idea for a story then, as my father was on the phone and a picture of him was in my palm. I've been reading Colette lately and there's all these funny stories about her insane father, and a part of that factors into the idea I have for my own story.

When we moved into that house in CT, none of discussed whether we were afraid that we'd lose it, as we'd lost our old home. Once, a storm blew in and we lost power and lit candles. It lasted a day. We were convinced we would have to move again. Now, my folks are selling that house, as though in a rush to get rid of it before it gets rid of us.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Paradise Now

Hany Abu-Assad, the director behind "Rana's Wedding," which I loved, has a new film out called "Paradise Now". From the NYT:
The story revolves around two childhood friends, Said (Kais Nashef) and Khaled (Ali Suliman), who have dead-end jobs as auto mechanics in Nablus, a West Bank city that has been under Israeli occupation since long before they were born. The only bright spot in Said's life is a pretty young woman, Suha (Lubna Azabal), who brings her car in for repairs and shows interest in a deeper friendship.

Eager to do their bit for the liberation of Palestine, however, Said and Khaled have already volunteered to become suicide bombers. And when Jamal (Amer Hlehel), the contact man for a martyrs' brigade, tells them their moment has come, they are ready. After recording a "martyr's video" and being congratulated by the brigade's leader, they are turned into human bombs and sent on their mission of death.

Things soon go wrong.
Go to the Warner Independent Pictures site and click on "Upcoming Releases" to see the trailer and some pics.

And I wouldn't be me if I didn't mention this: there are some beautiful people in this movie. Paradise now, indeed.

Literary Conversations With Mama, Part IV

The following is a mellow conversation I had with my Mama after we discussed the plight of the New Orleans evacuees.

ME: So, Mama, what have you been up to?
MAMA: I have been reading many books. I read Persepolis 2. Did you read that?
ME: Definitely. Did you like it?
MAMA: Not bad. I like the first better.
ME: Was it all the drugs?
MAMA: I was not taking drugs when I read it.
ME: No, the drugs in part II?
MAMA: No, no, it was fine. I'm also reading The Sieve. It's by Mikhail Naeema.
ME: What's that?
MAMA: It's a book of literary criticisms. From 1923. Very interesting. Nice.
ME: Not boring?
MAMA: No, no, there are some cool insights. Do you know him?
ME: No.
MAMA: I'm also reading Antoine de St.-Exupery's book about flying.
ME: He's awesome.
MAMA: I like his analogies about clouds and mountains.
ME: He died in an airplane crash.
MAMA: No! Why did you tell me this?
ME: It's not like that's the end of the book!
MAMA: Of course it is! It is the end of the man who wrote the book. It is the end of the book.
ME: I'm sorry, Mama.
MAMA: It is done. So. Your old best friend is getting married on Thursday.
ME: I know. I wish I could go.
MAMA: Yes, me too. It will be the day after the elections [in Egypt]. What a time to get married.
ME: What a strange coincidence.
MAMA: The world. It is in a kind of upheaval.

I Heart Arab Poets

From El-Ahram, this merits quoting in full:
Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish on Saturday published "a correction of statements by the press" in the London-based daily Al-Hayat, regarding a statement he allegedly made at the press conference he gave in the course of the 41st International Carthage Festival in Tunis, two weeks ago. By the time the "correction" appeared the statement had generated a wide-ranging campaign against the poet, largely due to a misunderstanding. Describing the Abbasid master [poet] Abul-Tayib Al-Mutanabbi as "more contemporary than any contemporary Arab poet", Darwish was thought by many to be insulting fellow poets throughout the Arab world -- something that prompted many a frenzied reaction.

First publicised in Al-Hayat, the "statement" was quickly taken up by Cairo's foremost literary journal, Akhbar Al-Adab, which published a series of responses by Egyptian poets, ranging from mild admonition to harsh critique of Darwish's own work. The issue has since spiralled beyond any reason. Few seemed to notice that, in honouring his greatest influence, Darwish was including himself in the phrase "any contemporary poet"; the statement was made in passing in response to a brief question about Al-Mutannabi (not about contemporary Arab poets). In the "correction" Darwish points out that he was "greatly surprised by the interpretations and responses, whether for or against, that my quick words about the poetry of Al-Mutannabi generated". His statement had been purposely decontextualised, he added, and interpreted in a literate framework that ultimately runs counter to its "metaphorical intent".

Monday, September 05, 2005

Sundry Links

  • The new issue of Outsider Ink is now up, and includes this piece by Daniel Olivas.
  • Edwar Kharrat writes a remembrance of his friend, Badr El-Dib, "a prominent journalist, a noted scholar, an astute literary critic, an adept and scrupulous translator, and one of the foremost intellectuals of [Egypt]".
  • The TLS reviews Zadie Smith's newest novel.
  • Bjork has made a film with her hubby, artist Mathew Barney, in which they play humans who turn into whales.
  • Richard Ford writes an elegy for his home town.
  • More Donation Calls

    Fellow Austinites:

    Please bring the following items to the Austin Convention Center: Reading Material, Underwear, Children's books and simple toys, Large Size Women's clothing, Fun.

    Also, if you are a nurse, or know of one, or if you can volunteer your administrative services, please call City of Austin Emergency Operations Center at 974-0498.

    Saturday, September 03, 2005

    Good Neighbor

    If you are here in the ATX, do what you can to help out the flood victims. From Ko-op radio:
    The Burger Center shelter (877-929-1224) through the Red Cross still needs plenty of volunteers. Pets are NOT allowed but there is a temporary Pet Shelter set-up next to the Burger Center.

    Food Donations

    Capital Area Food Bank (282-2111) is accepting donations of food for both the Austin shelter and shipments to affected states. Please don't take food directly to the Burger Center, per Red Cross instructions!

    Needed: cans of tuna, bottled water, peanut better, granola bars, diapers

    Donation Drop-off Sites:

    Capital Area Food Bank - 8201 S. Congress (south of Ben White)
    HEB - 11521 N 620 (620 and Anderson Mill Rd)
    HEB - Hancock Center, 1000 41st St.
    HEB - 12400 Hwy 71 W (Bee Caves Rd and Hwy 71)
    HEB - 500 Canyon Ridge (From I-35, go east on Canyon Ridge, which is between Parmer and Yager Ln.)